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Administering the arts

BY HANNA ROSMAN | DECEMBER 11, 2009 7:30 AM

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A music career can begin with a used saxophone in a funky green plastic case. For Jacob Yarrow, the Hancher Auditorium programming director, it was just that, plus a note from his grandfather.

He distinctly remembers the note’s words of wisdom: one — listen to your saxophone teacher, and two — music is a great hobby, but in no way, shape, or form a career.

Despite his grandfather’s advice, Yarrow embarked upon a musical life journey. Beginning as a junior-high music teacher, his music career escalated into professional touring stints with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and other ensembles before finally settling into arts administration (first at the Association of Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and now at Hancher Auditorium).

“I eventually decided I couldn’t live on a bus much longer,” Yarrow said about his move to arts management.

He has served as the Hancher programming director since the beginning of the fall semester.

Though this totals only around three and a half months, he said he has become fascinated with the programming process and feels pride in the performances Hancher has brought to the stage thus far.

Hancher presents approximately 20 shows during the academic year. Within each season, Yarrow noted that one of Hancher’s primary goals is to present a vast variety in terms of music, dance, theater, and multidisciplinary art.

“There are so many possibilities, and narrowing them down to a grouping of performances that make sense as a whole and appeal to a wide range of people [is difficult],” he said.

As the programming director, he deals with this challenge through monitoring touring ensembles, searching out like-minded organizations for potential collaboration, and keeping his eye on the pulse of both local and national arts trends.

“[Yarrow] is very respected in the field,” said Hancher Executive Director Charles Swanson. “He fits in extremely well given that it is an unusual time for Hancher.”

Indeed, the UI’s premier arts venue has embarked into uncharted territory over the past year. As a direct result of the auditorium’s displacement after the June 2008 flood, Hancher’s administrative offices have moved across campus numerous times, from the Lindquist Center to Seashore Hall (separate is the Hancher Box Office, which is now located in the University Capitol Centre).

Additionally, Hancher performances have been staged at 11 local venues, including Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, City High, and the U.S. Cellular Center.

Hancher Marketing Director Robert Cline said the atypical climate presented Yarrow with immediate challenges.

“[Yarrow] had to hit the ground running by facing difficult decisions because of the new programming,” Cline said.

Yarrow has risen to the occasion, Cline said. One of the programming director’s recent triumphs includes a November recital featuring the Parker Quartet at the UI Hospitals and Clinics (the first performance he set up for Hancher on his own).

“I feel like I give a bigger contribution to the world in helping world-class artists to get on stage for audiences,” he said. “I think that is a more valuable role than me honking on a saxophone.”


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